This year, Sony threw their hat into the ring of camera-focused smartphones with the Sony Xperia XA1 and the XA1 Ultra. After spending time with both phones, I can’t say that either one is all that great, even if the camera does live up to its expectations.
The Sony Xperia XA1 has a design that just doesn’t sit well with me. The rigid edges and its basic white model doesn’t help much. Compared to a lot of other phones on the market, the Sony Xperia XA1’s five-inch 720p feels small. Anyone who really cares about colour sharpness will likely be disappointed with this phone.
The Xperia XA1 Ultra fares slightly better, offering a similar design except with a larger 6-inch screen. Along with the larger screen, the Xperia XA1 Ultra also has a boosted resolution quality at 1080p. The unfortunate drawback of this enlarged screen is that the device becomes unwieldly unless you’re using both hands.
Both of the phones are incredibly thin and light, the XA1 weighing in at only 5.04 oz. while the XA1 Ultra weighs 6.63 oz. Fragility does become a potential threat however, especially when dealing with the plastic backing used for both phones. Because the back is non-removable, slots for the SIM card and an optional microSD card of up to 256 GB can be found on the left side of the phone. I never ran into this issue myself but it’s worth noting that I have read about users experiencing chipping off the paint located around the SIM slot. On the right side of the devices are volume rockers along with the round power button, similar to other Xperia brand devices. One design choice that I really did like was the placement of a button on the lower right side of both phones, operating purely as a camera button. This helped to make the devices feel more like actual cameras when taking pictures in landscape mode.
Neither the Xperia XA1 nor the XA1 Ultra come out looking great when it comes to performance. While both phones run on Android 7.0 operating system, the XA1 runs on an Mediatek MT6757 Helio P20 chipset with only 3 GB worth of RAM. The XA1 Ultra makes use of the same chipset, using 4 GB RAM instead. The two phones sometimes struggle to run even the most basic of apps, lagging while browsing the Google Play Store and even worse, occasionally crashing. The sound qualities of both the XA1 and XA1 Ultra are also average at best. There’s only one speaker found at the base of each device and while you do get a clear enough sound, they aren’t very loud even at max volume.
As expected, the XA1 and XA1 Ultra’s main attractions are their 23 megapixel cameras. In addition to their great camera sensors for lighting and autofocus, both offer a manual setting which lets users customize their camera settings to meet their needs. The XA1 Ultra does have a better front facing camera, offering 16 megapixels as opposed to the XA1’s 8 megapixels as well as LED flash. Although taking pictures is a specialty of the Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra, neither device offers much in the way of videos past being able to record at 1080p at 30 fps.
The topic of battery life is another area where the Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra perform decently. The XA1’s 2300mAH battery is able to last a full day with average use. The XA1 Ultra’s 2700mAH battery runs out of juice just a bit faster, likely due to the higher resolution screen. Charging these devices doesn’t take too long either, fully charging in about an hour and a half.
With such great cameras, it’s a shame that the Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra don’t even come close to that level of quality in other departments. Despite releasing in 2017, the phones already feel dated in today’s market, even going as far as lacking fingerprint scanners. With the only real quality of these devices being their camera specs, you’re likely better off just buying a new camera. Even among other budget smartphones, there are options that perform much better with cameras within the same range of quality as the Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra.